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All in the Family: Dr. Moses Chao Honors His Mother With Donation to Pomona College

Moses Chao

The Chao clan is a well-educated bunch.

Dr. Moses Chao ’73, his brother and his father all earned advanced degrees and became either researchers or professors (or both). Chao’s dad Lincoln taught business and economics at Long Beach State University; the doctor himself is a professor at New York University Medical School.

In the middle of such academic excellence was Chao’s mother Beatrice, a Chinese immigrant and former school teacher who quit her job when she started a family and never returned to the classroom.

“She was stuck at home while we were off getting Ph.D.s,” says Chao. “Frankly, she always felt a bit left out.”

In 2008, three years after Beatrice’s death, Chao made a significant gift to Pomona in his mother’s name to Pomona. A plaque was placed in Seaver North, where he did much of his work as a biochemistry major. For Chao, it was an essential way to honor his mother’s lifelong commitment to education.

Chao himself has certainly lived up to his family’s academic legacy. At NYU, he serves in three departments—cell biology, physiology and neuroscience, and psychiatry—and is a member of the Molecular Neurobiology Program. He has also been a senior editor at the Journal of Neuroscience and is president-elect of the Society for Neuroscience (SfN).

The professor acquired the science bug as a high school junior after attending a summer chemistry camp sponsored by the National Science Foundation. From there, it was a natural progression to study biochemistry at Pomona, where he left impressed by the wealth of research opportunities and personal attention provided by such faculty members as Neal Cornell and Corwin Hansch.

“To get one-on-one input from senior professors about how to organize studies was great,” he says. “I learned techniques you wouldn’t normally encounter in college, and the exposure to scientific literature gave me a real leg up in graduate school.”

Chao credits much of his early success to Beatrice’s constant encouragement. A vivacious personality eager to hold her own in the household, Beatrice published a memoir in 1993 after years of seeing her husband writing business textbooks. At the same time, Chao recounts an omnipresent good-heartedness in his mother stemming directly from her disposition as a deeply spiritual third-generation Lutheran.

“She read the Bible daily and believed in treating people fairly,” he says. “She taught me things about generosity and dealing with adversity that have guided my life. It’s those kinds of qualities that I hope will inspire future classes at Pomona.”

This article originally appeared in the March 2011 Campaign Pomona: Daring Minds newsletter.